June 16, 2007 by

Jan Romary


Categories: Sports

jromary.jpgJanice-Lee York Romary, a champion foil fencer who competed in six Olympic Games, died on May 31 from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. She was 79.
Born in Palo Alto, Calif., Romary developed a passion for the sport of fencing, the European martial art of swordplay, as a young girl. She trained with Ralph Faulkner, a fencing master who taught Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Basil Rathbone and many others how to wield a sword for the silver screen, and participated in the women’s fencing club at the University of Southern California. In 2004, photographs of Romary were featured in the “Women of Troy” exhibition, which celebrated the achievements of female USC athletes.
The sport of fencing requires athletes to be both smart and swift. Performed on a strip that’s 6-feet wide by 44-feet long, participants earn points by landing a valid hit or touch. Fencers win a bout by scoring 15 points in direct elimination play, or 5 points in preliminary pool play. At the Olympics, there are no preliminary rounds; initial seeding is determined by world rankings.
Romary won 10 national championships over the course of 18 years, and only missed the 1959 championship tournament because she was pregnant. After giving birth, she returned to competition and won a gold medal at the 1967 Pan American Games. Her total of 10 foil championships is the most of any man or woman in America.
From 1948 until 1968, Romary competed in the women’s individual foil event at six consecutive Olympics, finishing fourth in 1952 and 1956. She carried the U.S. flag at her final Olympics, the Mexico City Games, and was the only fencer to ever win the Helms Foundation Athlete of the Month Award.
While her fencing skills were widely praised, Romary preferred to promote her longevity in the sport. “Fencing is like a physical chess game,” she once said. “You must think ahead to third and fourth intentions. As you get older, your physical ability may diminish, but you mature mentally. You compensate by out-thinking your opponent.”
After retiring from competition, Romary served as the women’s administrator for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, where she was responsible for all U.S. women competitors, and as the commissioner of fencing for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. In the late 1970s, she was inducted into the United States Fencing Association Hall of Fame.
Romary’s husband, Charles, was an oceanographic engineer and fencer. Together, they ran Clean Water Systems, a water purification business in Klamath Falls, Ore.

3 Responses to Jan Romary

  1. Dr. William M. Gaugler

    Jan Romary was the finest and most effective American women’s foil champion of her generation.  Although she began as a pupil of Ralph Faulkner she transferred early to Aldo Nadi’s newly-opened academy, where she became his prize student, and gained great success fencing in the traditional Italian manner, with Italian foil and wrist strap.  Her technical skill, range of fencing actions, and classical form enabled her to fence well against the top-level European competitors, despite the fact that unlike her world-class rivals, who fenced each other with regularity in Europe, Jan was only able to encounter them once every four years in Olympic competition.  And while this should have put her at a considerable disadvantage, she managed, nonetheless, to place fourth in the Olympic Games of 1952 and 1956.  Moreover, Jan was able to modify her fencing method from standard to electric foil, without the advantages her European opponents enjoyed of daily practice on electrical fencing strips with federation-donated and serviced weapons.
    And it must be added that Jan Romary was a kind and generous lady both off and on the fencing strip, behaving in a manner that honored the noble art of fencing, and earned her the respect of the international fencing community.
    Dr.William M. Gaugler
    Maestro di Scherma
    Honorary Member of the Italian
    Fencers Masters Association and
    the National Academy of Fencing, Naples
    fence well against her European adversaries

  2. Stacey Asher-Rockwood

    I had the opportunity to meet Jan when I dated her son while we were in High School together. Never once did I have any idea that this nice lady was an Olympian in the highest regard and she was welcoming me into her home. I still to this day have the poster and pin from the Pan Am game that she had her son give to me because she thought I’d like it.
    An amazing women to be truly missed.

  3. Trudi (Lintz) Coetzee

    I also had the pleasure of getting to know Mrs Romary through her son when we were in high school,she was the most generous and genuine person I have ever met.I am very saddened to hear of her passing,she told me some really great stories of her Olympic past.She was truly a terrific lady.

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